2019 marks 50 years since the iconic moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (piloted by Michael Collins) stepped foot on the Moon during the successful Apollo 11 mission.
Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface was broadcast on live TV to a worldwide audience in what was a massive technological, scientific and engineering success as well as a huge cultural event. He famously described the event as “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Apollo 11 mission and moon landing effectively ended the Space Race and fulfilled a goal proposed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy: “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
Since 2016, British artist, Luke Jerram has been exhibiting his Museum of the Moon installation around the world: an internally lit, spherical replica of the Moon with a seven metre diameter. Featuring detailed NASA imagery of the lunar surface at a scale of 1:500,000 with each centimetre representing five kilometres. Whilst I was back in the UK for a short trip home, I managed to catch a glimpse of the massive installation at Birkenhead Town Hall (in the Wirral Peninsula, England).
There are several of Jerram’s moons which travel around the world to various art galleries, museums, special events and public spaces; in 2018 alone it was shown 73 times in 21 different countries; each bringing a new perspective to the piece and with their own accompanying events. Each of the occasions features the Moon piece and a surround sound composition crated by BAFTA and Ivor Novello award-winning composer Dan Jones.
“The Moon has always inspired humanity, acting as a ‘cultural mirror’ to society, reflecting the ideas and beliefs of all people around the world. Over the centuries, the Moon has been interpreted as a god and as a planet. It has been used as a timekeeper, calendar and been a source of light to aid night-time navigation.
Throughout history, the Moon has inspired artists, poets, scientists, writers and musicians the world over. The ethereal blue light cast by a full moon, the delicate crescent following the setting sun, or the mysterious dark side of the Moon has evoked passion and exploration. Different cultures around the world have their own historical, cultural, scientific and religious relationships to the Moon. And yet somehow, despite these differences, the Moon connects us all.
Museum of the Moon allows us to observe and contemplate cultural similarities and differences around the world, and consider the latest moon science. Depending on where the artwork is presented, its meaning and interpretation will shift.”
I visited the Museum of the Moon piece after my parents suggested going to see it whilst I was home and I was intrigued by the idea of something moon related at such an obscure location (a 19th century, Grade II* listed building in Birkenhead) and I didn’t do any prior research, all I was told was that we had tickets to “see the Moon thing” on Saturday night.
I had no idea what to expect, walking through the stone clad walls of the Town Hall, up some stairs, down a corridor and through a door emitting an ominous blue glow then to be hit with the image of this vast grey sphere an image so awe-inspiring.
Suspended from the ceiling and about 30cm off the floor, there is was; the Moon. You could get so close and see so much detail, every crater, every open space and more.
I quickly realised how little I actually knew about the Moon. Of course I know about the planets in our solar system and how they orbit around the sun but after talking to my parents and others I didn’t know that there were multiple earlier Apollo missions and then later ones including the failed Apollo 13 mission. I didn’t know that there was one astronaut who didn’t actually walk on the surface but instead stayed inside the vehicle. I didn’t know about places like the Sea of Tranquility or other lunar maria. I had heard the phrase “the dark side of the Moon” but only from Pink Floyd’s 1973 album of the same name and I didn’t realise that it is actually called “the far side of the Moon” (I also then wondered if the hip-hop group the Pharcyde got their name from here–the jury is still out on this one however). Also why is our moon called The Moon when other planet’s moons have names like Europa (moon of Jupiter), Phobos (moon of Mars), Hyperion (moon of Saturn) and Hippocamp (moon of Neptune).
Before I knew it, we had spent an hour staring at this glowing, grey-white sphere; looking for specific details like the Apollo 11 landing site, the ‘man in the Moon’ and numerous other obscure things. Subconsciously I was absorbing the surround sound composition: a mixture of classical music (Claire de Lune and such), speeches by JFK and I assume other figures in American politics and/or space travel as well as the beeps and noises you can imagine a spacecraft making but also some general white-noise sounds and silence giving a sense of the vastness of space.
One of my strongest connections to the Moon is also sound related, which wasn’t part of this installation, but it is still interesting. Max Richter’s 2015 album, Sleep, features an image of the Moon. The over eight hour album is a conceptual piece which was composed around the neuroscience of sleep hence the length. Designed to be fallen asleep to with the image of the Moon, a symbol of the night and therefore, sleep cementing this idea visually on the album cover.
As mentioned earlier, there are several of Jerram’s moons around the world, most recently on display in Houston, Lille, London, Sydney, Seoul, Vienna, Lancaster, Cardiff, Philadelphia, Stockton and Mechelen. Looking at previous iterations there have been some great ones such as in January 2018 when it was suspended above a swimming pool in Rennes, France. February 2017 it was installed in a narrow street, between buildings in Rotterdam as part of the TEC ART festival and in June 2017 at the Old Royal Observatory Gardens in Greenwich.
Despite us as society knowing so much about the Moon, there is still so much we still do not know—much like most of outer-space in general actually. This installation was eye-opening to me and I left with more questions than answers, leading me on to my own personal research.
There is a good chance that the Museum of the Moon will be on display somewhere near you in the future, in which case; you should take the opportunity to experience it for yourself.
Luke Jerram’s multidisciplinary practice involves the creation of sculptures, installations and live arts projects. Living in the UK but working internationally for 21 years, Jerram has created a number of extraordinary art projects which have excited and inspired people around the globe.
The Museum of the Moon was inspired by living in Bristol and noticing the huge tidal variation as he cycled over the Avon Cut each day. His moon research also led to his artwork Tide. In 2019 Luke was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.